UK Music Chairman Andy Heath: Reining In Big Tech Will Be Music To All Our Ears

Our musicians are looking anxiously to Strasbourg for a key decision that will have a big impact on their future

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12/09/18: Britain’s pop heritage, from The Beatles to Stormzy, is the envy of the world. But today our musicians will be looking anxiously to Strasbourg for a key decision that will have a big impact on their future and could affect us all as music fans too.

The European Parliament will vote on new copyright rules that could ensure big-tech platforms reward musicians and songwriters fairly for using their work online. This may not sound a big issue, but copyright matters enormously as it’s a cornerstone of this nation’s amazing creativity, underpinning the global success of British music.

The problem is that whilst some services such as Spotify, Apple and Amazon fully license the music they make available through their streaming services – paying royalties that are then shared with artists – some tech giants that host user-generated content (UGC) effectively hide behind legal loopholes to pay only a fraction of this amount for each user – just a 1/20th in fact!  In 2016 it amounted to just £27m for billions of music video views – less than half the £55m generated by good-old vinyl, which accounted for a mere 2 percent of music consumption.  Music videos have helped to fuel YouTube’s phenomenal growth – with 1.1 trillion annual views representing a third of all YouTube’s global views in 2017 alone.

These so-called ‘safe harbours’ were first introduced by European policymakers over 15 years ago to help nurture a fledgling internet. That may have been fine then, but when you consider just how powerful and wealthy these platforms have now become, it no longer seems right or fit for purpose.

Addressing this “value gap” – the gulf between the vast amount of consumption these platforms enable and the relatively small revenues they pay back – could generate hundreds of millions of pounds that labels would invest into new British talent – bringing us the next Adele, Rag’n’Bone Man or Dua Lipa.It’s new artists that have been hardest hit by the unfairness of the current rules, meaning they can earn less from hundreds of thousands of views of their new music video than they would from a couple of hours busking. And the pipeline of new British music really matters. Aside from the pleasure we all get from discovering a great new song or album, music is going to be a key international calling card for the UK in a post-Brexit world where our country needs to forge new trading relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, the internet has brought many benefits into our lives.  Musicians and the music business love technology – we use it every day in making and recording music and connecting it with the widest possible global audience. But increasingly we are also seeing its more negative side – everything from cyber-bullying and spreading fake news to enabling our personal data to be traded without our permission. If we are to build a fairer, safer internet, then it’s vital our elected officials hold these tech giants to greater account and make them take responsibility for the content they make available – whether that’s playing a pop video or hosting something altogether more sinister.

Yet we’ve allowed a handful of big Internet players to monopolise and control the internet, and to siphon off the value of content painstakingly created by others to line their own pockets. For some reason, lawmakers have bought the argument that it’s not their fault if they are hosting hateful content or not sharing value fairly with creators. Maybe this has something to do with the vast sums the tech lobby spends on cozying up to politicians – Google has reportedly spent tens of millions of dollars aggressively lobbying MEPs on the Copyright Directive and funding “grassroots” campaigns with absurd claims that doing anything to make them behave more responsibly will somehow ‘break the internet’ or usher in a new age of censorship.

The good news is we still have an opportunity to begin fixing these problems when the EU Parliament votes on long-overdue copyright reforms later today. The big-tech lobby is deploying every scare tactic it can to preserve its privileged status, but this is a chance for MEPs to make a stand not just for the rights of musicians, but for the rights of all the citizens they represent. For all our sakes, we urge them to take it.

If you value music and would like to see the ‘value gap’ closed, then you can still make your voice heard by signing the #LoveMusic petition to MEPs here.

UK Music chairman Andy Heath

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